Unholy Dark areas: Gnosticism

One cannot begin to understand the early struggles of Christianity for existence without at the very least a rudimentary knowledge of its formative history. Thus, it behooves us to have a brief look at Gnosticism and its challenge to early Christianity.

Christianity’s infancy history comprised a time teeming with religious theories; a time when religious discussion was a favorite occupation among thinkers of every type. So it absolutely was inevitable that in the enthusiastic interchange of religious ideas, truth and error would intermingle and the pure doctrines of Christianity soon became threatened.

Though Christianity faced many and varied forms of opposition because it spread and came into experience of other cultural forms, heresy presented a totally different type of contrariety. And even though conflict subsequently led to ameliorated comprehension of this is of Christ and an even more lucid presentation of Christian belief, heresy was definitely the absolute most serious menace Christianity had to confront. The task was in the arena of thought. In its most sinister form it appeared underneath the title of Gnosticism.

Gnosticism is really a term based on the Greek “gnosis” and translates “knowledge.” It generally applied collectively to nearly all those second century movements which called themselves Christian or borrowed heavily from Christian sources. Gnosticism denotes the teachings of a small grouping of deviationists who have been scorned by many orthodox Christians. It claimed to become a sure way to knowledge, hence, the vision of God. It claimed that its rites, ceremonies, prescriptions and its road to God were divinely inspired and transmitted to the elite esoteric through a mysterious tradition. Valentinian Gnosticism Furthermore, and perhaps most offensive to Christianity, it claimed, essentially, that its magical formulas offered an infallible way to salvation.

It’s beyond the scope of this information to discuss the origin of Gnosticism. Suffice it to state that a lot of theories seem to agree that it was a confluence of many diverse streams of thought emanating from pre-Christian mystery religions.

The basic nature of second century Gnosticism was firmly rooted in a dualism between spirit and matter. It held that matter is basically evil. For the Gnostics, God could not be held in charge of the evil constitution of the world, and so they differentiated the supreme God from the creator of the world. To account fully for evil matter, the Gnostics evolved a doctrine of emanations from God. These emanations flowed from God and each further from God until finally there was one so distant from Him that it could touch matter. This emanation was the creator of the world.

Adding insult to injury, there were some Gnostics who thought that the emanations flowing from God were actual forces and divine persons in whom the Deity unfolded His being. The greatest of the emanations was the figure of Christ who had been given the honor to be set besides all the emanations.

It’s required to also include here a statement about a small grouping of Gnostics known as Docetists. They held the belief that Christ’s body was only a phantom and that the “true” Christ doesn’t have bodily form. This was an important idea to the Gnostics since if matter was regarded as evil, then Christ could not be burdened with a material body, for then He wouldn’t have already been able to accomplish the redemption from matter.

The Gnostic system of belief simultaneously destroyed the divinity and humanness of Jesus, and cast a black unholy shadow on the doctrine central to the Christian faith. Not just did Gnostics deny the incarnate Christ, but their ethics were in strict violation of traditional church views.

I cannot start to impress upon you the apparent power of Gnosticism’s influence. It threatened to undermine the fundamental foundations of Christianity. These foundations the Church was bound to safeguard if simply to preserve the human historical Jesus. Thus, early Church fathers arose to the defense of the Christian faith.

Contrary to the denial of Christ’s humanity, Fathers of the Church underlined the truth of the incarnation and stressed the importance of the work of Jesus. Contrary to the denial of Old Testament truths, the Fathers maintained the identity of Creator and Savior and developed a theology of salvation history. The Gnostics annulled the unity of the people by dividing it into spiritual, psychic and material classes. This led the Fathers to extol free will and personal responsibility of every individual.

To a big degree, the development of Christian doctrine was in reaction against Gnosticism. It’s difficult, or even impossible, to clearly discern when and where in fact the Gnostic movement was halted by the Church. The biggest thing is that Christianity was successful in its defense of the faith.

Unfortunately, the spirit of Gnosticism lives on even today. The clothing is apparently different, but once disrobed we begin to see the nude body of Gnosticism in many of our branches of religion.

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